NAACP decries P.G. jail probe

Until investigation of inmate's death ends, suspensions sought

July 03, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes and Julie Bykowicz | Gus G. Sentementes and Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporters

Upper Marlboro - With the investigation of a detainee's homicide inside a cell in Prince George's County stretching past its fourth day, the local chapter of the NAACP criticized authorities yesterday for not suspending the nine officers who worked in the area where the death occurred.

"There are nine individuals identified and all are still employed and still on duty," said June White Dillard, the NAACP chapter president. "We feel it is imperative that they be placed on administrative leave until a complete and thorough investigation has been completed into the homicide of Ronnie White."

Accused of running down and killing a Prince George's County police officer on Friday, 19-year-old Ronnie L. White was found dead in a solitary-confinement cell on Sunday morning. The Maryland State Police were brought in as the lead agency in a criminal investigation that is being overseen by the county's top prosecutor, Glenn F. Ivey. The FBI is also involved in the case, having launched a civil rights investigation on Monday.

Vicki Duncan, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Corrections, said the agency couldn't comment on the status of any correctional officers or possible suspensions.

"We don't want to jeopardize the integrity of the investigation by the state police," Duncan said.

Outside the county court house in Upper Marlboro yesterday afternoon, Ivey said he had not yet personally reviewed any evidence collected by law enforcement agencies. He said state police and FBI agents were still in the process of interviewing correctional officers and others connected to the case, including medical staff who treated White.

Investigators were also busy processing evidence collected at the jail and waiting for the state medical examiner's office to finalize White's autopsy report, he said.

"Those are the three parts that are moving forward right now," Ivey said.

Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the state police, said their investigation was "proceeding."

We're conducting interviews with inmates and correctional officers, and pursuing leads wherever we can," Shipley said.

Special Agent Richard Wolf, a spokesman for the Baltimore field office of the FBI, declined to detail the role that federal investigators are playing in the case. A Department of Justice spokesman said that that agency was also monitoring the case's progression.

On Friday night, Cpl. Richard S. Findley, 39, and two other officers in Laurel tried to stop a Ford pickup truck with stolen tags. Police charging documents allege that the truck's driver "intentionally accelerated toward Corporal Findley and ran him over."

Findley, 39, a 10-year police veteran, volunteer firefighter and married father of two children, died of injuries suffered in the incident. One of the other officers on the scene identified White as the driver of the truck, and on Saturday he was arrested and charged with murder.

A day later, White was found unresponsive in his jail cell in the solitary confinement unit of the Prince George's County Correctional Center, in Upper Marlboro.

On Monday, the state medical examiner ruled that White's death was a homicide and that he died of asphyxiation and strangulation. The ruling of homicide triggered a broad investigation, with the state police taking the lead role in the probe.

At a news conference in Upper Marlboro yesterday morning, NAACP officials and a state senator called on the FBI to take a greater role in the investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing that might have led to White's death.

"There is no doubt that some actions of correctional officers or others are the direct cause of his death, and that has to be immediately investigated and acted upon," said White Dillard, the local chapter president.

When asked about the jail's reputation in the community and whether the chapter had fielded complaints about the behavior of correctional officers in the past, White Dillard said the chapter was not aware of any recent complaints before White's death.

She called on investigators to release more details of White's death.

Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a Prince George's Democrat and the minister of a prominent county church, said during the NAACP news conference that a lot of focus has been placed on White's death. But he said the sacrifice that Findley made should be remembered.

"With all that is going on, we cannot forget that a hero was killed in the line of duty," Muse said.

Moments later, he added: "I think the message here is clear, two wrongs do not make a right."

Findley's funeral is set for today. His family has decided it will be closed to the public.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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